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State of the States

by Steven Hayward
Wednesday, July 1, 1998

Social Security Opt-Out Update

Colorado has followed Oregon’s lead in asking Congress to allow the state to opt out of the Social Security system and set up an alternative for its citizens (see "Oregon’s Revolt Against Social Security," Policy Review, Jan.–Feb. 1998). Legislation calling on Congress to create a state waiver process passed the lower house of the state legislature in March and the state senate in early May. A similar resolution has also passed committees in both houses of the Arizona legislature. Social Security waiver legislation has also been introduced in Georgia, Indiana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington.

Take Me Out to the Cleaners

Phoenix and St. Petersburg joined the ranks of cities with major league baseball teams this spring, but it was their taxpayers who faced the first beanballs. Even though Phoenix residents voted down a $100-million stadium bond measure in 1989, state and county officials went ahead and committed taxpayers to forking over $253 million for a new stadium through a sales tax increase that never went before voters. St. Petersburg officials hit taxpayers with a $170-million high, hard one for its new stadium. After the initial excitement of the new teams wears off, taxpayers may want to send their elected officials a few brushback pitches of their own. North Carolina voters, meanwhile, aren’t fooled by local officials’ big league pitch: In early May, they voted against a sales-tax hike designed to lure the Minnesota Twins to the Tar Heel state.

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Coasts

The American Academy of Pediatrics made news in April with a report that criticized corporal punishment for children and recommended softer alternatives such as "time out." The academy surveyed parents nationwide about their attitudes toward spanking and found that 70 percent support corporal punishment. But these parents are located mostly in the heartland, while parents on the coasts (especially in California, the Beltway, and the Northeast) eschew corporal punishment. The states with the strongest support for spanking are South Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina; the most lenient parents are in Connecticut.

Defunding the Left

In a campus version of "paycheck protection," students at the University of Oregon voted recently to deny automatic student funding to the Oregon Student’s Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG), a Nader-inspired "consumer activist" group known for creating leftist political mischief. OSPIRG had been assessing students more than $8 apiece in fees each year, or nearly $150,000 total, which it used for "research and advocacy." Now OSPIRG may have to close down its U. of O. chapter. A few years ago, Mother Jones magazine lauded the university as one of the country’s most liberal activist campuses.

Kidcare Breakthrough

When Congress passed the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP, better known as "Kidcare") last year to provide health-care coverage for uninsured children, congressional liberals intended the states to use the block-grant money—as much as $48 billion over the next decade—to cover children through their Medicaid programs. But North Carolina has broken from the pack and created a refundable tax credit of up to $300 per child for private insurance, offering parents the option of using a private insurance provider instead of the state-run program.

The size of the credit shrinks as family income rises, but, as John Hood of the John Locke Foundation notes, "The precedent has now been set: Families who buy dependent health care with after-tax dollars will begin to get the same kinds of tax breaks that families with employer-provided benefits already receive." (The Locke Foundation sponsored the original plan on which the tax credit is based.)

Education Miscellany

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Academy of the Pacific Rim, a Boston charter school, has begun offering a "learning guarantee" to parents of children who enroll in the school. The school will permit any of its students who do not pass their 10th-grade state assessment test to pick another public or private school, and will transfer directly to that school the $7,400 in per-pupil state funding that the Academy receives. "Guarantees exist for mufflers, airline services, and dozens of services in America," Stacey Boyd, the director of the school, told the Journal. "Yet no service, save perhaps health care, matters as much to a person’s livelihood than education."

Four states—North Carolina, Missouri, Mississippi, and Maryland—have announced that they plan to begin using a standardized test to license public-school principals. The test, developed by the Educational Testing Service and the Council for the Chief State School Officers, will test "comprehensive skills" and "real world decisions," based on situations a principal is likely to face. Meanwhile, Texas is moving to sanction any of its 87 state teacher colleges whenever 30 percent or more of its graduates fail teacher licensing examinations. Teacher colleges that cannot raise their graduates’ pass rates within two years will be shut down. Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania are considering similar accountability standards for their teacher training colleges.

The teachers union in California has been using its clout in the state legislature to block any expansion of charter schools there. But when deep-pocket, high-tech interests in Silicon Valley collected enough signatures to put a charter-school-expansion initiative on the November ballot, the unions relented. Governor Pete Wilson has signed a bill that will lift the current cap of 200 charter schools and remove some of the procedural barriers to forming new ones. The bill will allow up to 100 new charter schools per year.